By Ed Korczynski, Senior Technical Editor, Solid State Technology
Slightly more than one year after Qualcomm Technologies announced that it was assessing CEA-Leti’s monolithic 3D (M3D) transistor stacking technology, Qualcomm has now announced that M3D will be used instead of through-silicon vias (TSV) in the company’s next generation of cellphone handset chips. Since Qualcomm had also been a leading industrial proponent of TSV over the last few years while participating in the imec R&D consortium, this endorsement of M3D is particularly relevant.
Leti’s approach to 3D stacking of transistors starts with a conventionally built and locally-interconnected bottom layer of transistors, which are then covered with a top layer of transistors built using relatively low-temperature processes branded as “CoolCube.” Figure 1 shows a simplified cross-sectional schematic of a CoolCube stack of transistors and interconnects. CoolCube M3D does not transfer a layer of built devices as in the approach using TSV, but instead transfers just a nm-thin layer of homogenous semiconducting material for subsequent device processing.
Fig. 1: Simplified cross-sectional rendering of Monolithic 3D (M3D) transistor stacks, with critical process integration challenges indicated. (Source: CEA-Leti)
The reason that completed transistors are not transferred in the first place is because of intrinsic alignment issues, which are eliminated when transistors are instead fabricated on the same wafer. “We have lots of data to prove that alignment precision is as good as can be seen in 2D lithography, typically 3nm,” explained Maud Vinet, Leti’s advanced CMOS laboratory manager in an exclusive interview with SST.
As discussed in a blog post online at Semiconductor Manufacturing and Design (http://semimd.com/hars/2014/04/09/going-up-monolithic-3d-as-an-alternative-to-cmos-scaling/) last year by Leti researchers, the M3D approach consists of sequentially processing:
- processing a bottom MOS transistor layer with local interconnects,
- bonding a wafer substrate to the bottom transistor layer,
- chemical-mechanical planarization (CMP) and SPE of the top layer,
- processing the top device layer,
- forming metal vias between the two device layers as interconnects, and
- standard copper/low-k multi-level interconnect formation.
To transfer a layer of silicon for the top layer of transistors, a cleave-layer is needed within the bulk silicon or else time and money would be wasted in grinding away >95% of the silicon bulk from the backside. For CMOS:CMOS M3D thin silicon-on-insulator (SOI) is the transferred top layer, a logical extension of work done by Leti for decades. The heavy dose ion-implantation that creates the cleave-layer leaves defects in crystalline silicon which require excessively high temperatures to anneal away. Leti’s trick to overcome this thermal-budget issue is to use pre-amorphizing implants (PAI) to completely dis-order the silicon before transfer and then solid-phase epitaxy (SPE) post-transfer to grow device-grade single-crystal silicon at ~500°C.
Since neither aluminum nor copper interconnects can withstand this temperature range, the interconnects for the bottom layer of transistors need to be tungsten wires with the highest melting point of any metal but somewhat worse electrical resistance (R). Protection for the lower wires cannot use low-k dielectrics, but must use relatively higher capacitance (C) oxides. However, the increased RC delay in the lower interconnects is more than offset by the orders-of-magnitude reduction in interconnect lengths due to vertical stacking.
Leti shows data that M3D transistor stacking can provide immediate benefit to industry by combining two 28nm-node CMOS layers instead of trying to design and manufacture a single 14nm-node CMOS layer: area gain 55%, performance gain 23%, and power gain 12%. With cost/transistor now expected to increase with sequential nodes, M3D thus provides a way to reduce cost and risk when developing new ICs.
For the industry to use M3D, there are some unique new unit-processes that will need to ramp into high-volume manufacturing (HVM) to ensure profitable line yield. As presented by C. Fenouillet-Beranger et al. from Leti and ST (paper 27.5) at IEDM2014 in San Francisco, “New Insights on Bottom Layer Thermal Stability and Laser Annealing Promises for High Performance 3D Monolithic Integration,” due to stability improvement in bottom transistors found through the use of doping nickel-silicide with a noble metal such as platinum, the top MOSFET processing temperature could be relaxed up to 500°C. Laser RTP annealing then allows for the activation of top MOSFETs junctions, which have been characterized morphologically and electrically as promising for high performance ICs.
Figure 2 shows the new unit-processes at <=500°C that need to be developed for top transistor formation:
* Gate-oxide formation,
* Dopant activation,
* Epitaxy, and
* Spacer deposition.
Fig. 2: Thermal processing ranges for process modules need to be below ~500°C for the top devices in M3D stacks to prevent degradation of the bottom layer. (Source: CEA-Leti)
After the above unit-processes have been integrated into high-yielding process modules for CMOS:CMOS stacking, heterogeneous integration of different types of devices are on the roadmap for M3D. Leti has already shown proof-of-concept for processes that integrate new IC functionalities into future M3D stacks:
3) III-V:Ge, and
Thomas Ernst, senior scientist, Electron Nanodevice Architectures, Leti, commented to SST, “Any application that will need a ‘pixelated’ device architecture would likely use M3D. In addition, this approach will work well for integrating new channel materials such as III-V’s and germanium, and any materials that can be deposited at relatively low temperatures such as the active layers in gas-sensors or resistive-memory cells.”
Non-Equilibrium Thermal Processing
Though the use of an oxide barrier between the active device layers provides significant thermal protection to the bottom layer of devices during top-layer fabrication, the thermal processes of the latter cannot be run at equilibrium. “One way of controlling the thermal budget is to use what we sometimes call the crème brûlée approach to only heat the very top surface while keeping the inside cool,” explained Vinet. “Everyone knows that you want a nice crispy top surface with cool custard beneath.” Using a laser with a short wavelength prevents penetration into lower layers such that essentially all of the energy is absorbed in the surface layer in a manner that can be considered as adiabatic.
Applied Materials has been a supplier-partner with Leti in developing M3D, and the company provided responses from executive technologists to queries from SST about the general industry trend to controlling short pulses of light for thermal processing. “Laser non-equilibrium heating is enabling technology for 3D devices,” affirmed Steve Moffatt, chief technology officer, Front End Products, Applied Materials. “The idea is to heat the top layer and not the layers below. To achieve very shallow adiabatic heating the toolset needs to ramp up in less than 100 nsec. In order to get strong absorption in the top surface, shorter wavelengths are useful, less than 800 nm. Laser non-equilibrium heating in this regime can be a critical process for building monolithic 3D structures for SOC and logic devices.”
Of course, with ultra-shallow junctions (USJ) and atomic-scale gate-stacks already in use for CMOS transistors at the 22nm-node, non-equilibrium thermal processing has already been used in leading fabs. “Gate dielectric, gate metal, and contact treatments are areas where we have seen non-equilibrium anneals slowly taking the place of conventional RTP,” clarified Abhilash Mayur, senior director, Front End Products, Applied Materials. “For approximate percentages, I would say about 25 percent of thermal processing for logic at the 22nm-node is non-equilibrium, and seen to be heading toward 50 percent at the 10nm-node or lower.”
Mayur further explained some of the trade-offs in working on the leading-edge of thermal processing for demanding HVM customers. Pulse-times are in the tens of nsec, with longer pulses tending to allow the heat to diffuse deeper and adversely alter the lower layers, and with shorter pulses tending to induce surface damage or ablation. “Our roadmap is to ensure flexibility in the pulse shape to tailor the heat flow to the specific application,” said Mayur.
Now that Qualcomm has endorsed CoolCube M3D as a preferred approach to CMOS:CMOS transistor stacking in the near-term, we may assume that R&D in novel unit-processes has mostly concluded. Presumably there are pilot lots of wafers now being run through commercial foundries to fine-tune M3D integration. With a roadmap for long-term heterogeneous integration that seems both low-cost and low-risk, M3D using non-equilibrium RTP will likely be an important way to integrate new functionalities into future ICs.